GTE Plunges Into Interactive Media

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

GTE is best known as a telephone company.

Now, the $20 billion company hopes to become known for such electronic games as ``Jammit,'' a street basketball game, and ``Blades,'' a street hockey game.

A GTE subsidiary, GTE Interactive Media (GTE IM), today plans to enter the $7 billion consumer market for arcade games and ``interactive'' entertainment products using the new CD-ROM technology. GTE joins a growing list of companies hoping to merge communications skills with Hollywood film techniques and technology.

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GTE IM, a software publishing firm based in Carlsbad, Calif., will introduce its first line of products at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago Thursday. The games and videos will be distributed to the public over the next nine months.

Last week, executives gave the Monitor a preview of some new products. There is an action arcade game featuring what look like mannequin martial-arts experts. Another shows spaceships resembling ``Star Wars'' vehicles.

A third product uses real actors playing basketball and street hockey. Since the action games take place on the street, the rules are ``flexible.'' The actors have digital sensors attached to their bodies to help computers capture their movements in a realistic fashion.

The GTE IM games can be played on a variety of hardware, including personal computers equipped with CD-ROM and Super Nintendo Entertainment systems.

The arcade and action games are geared toward male teens - the largest market so far. GTE IM says designing games for girls is a harder task. In 1995, the company will unveil another line of videos for adults.

Although the GTE subsidiary, begun in 1990, does not disclose its revenues, Richard Robinson, its president, says he expects sales to quadruple for the next several years as the company releases different product lines. ``There are a lot of three- to six-year-old companies that went from being very small to $100 [million] to $200 million companies and are not that small any more,'' he says in an interview.

GTE's move into producing products is part of a larger corporate strategy. Mr. Robinson says GTE expects the video games, along with GTE Main Street, a premium interactive cable-TV service, to be the essential part of its plans to provide video services to its customers.

GTE Telephone Operations recently announced plans to build a video network reaching 7 million homes in 66 markets over the next 10 years. GTE IM executives say they foresee a day when those customers will be able to use GTE products to compete against each other on video games.

GTE IM will compete against big names in the film industry such as Disney and Paramount. Other companies, such as Acclaim Entertainment, have established recognition through games like MortalKombat, which has sold 5 million-plus copies. Viacom recently bought Paramount Communications to provide it with new products. And last week, Creative Artists Agency hired Robert Kavner, an AT&T executive, to bolster its position in the business.

Although GTE will be competing against some sophisticated players in the business, the company says it has the facilities and products to do well. The company has developed a state-of-the-art digital studio in Carlsbad to produce the videos.

Tom Casey, vice president of marketing for GTE IM, says the videos for kids are unique.

``Other videos try to make education fun - we are just trying to have fun,'' he says. The first two products for kids are a puzzle series, Lost & Found, and VITSIE Visits Dinosaurs, part of an award-winning series hosted by a redheaded, green-goggled musical hostess. In the future, GTE will release a close-up look at insects as well as a video called ``Night Light,'' aimed at helping kids overcome fear of the dark.

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